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    Tackling the abuse of women, for love’s sake

    A sermon on love for Mother's Day-Easter 6 May 9, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
    Filed Under:
    Pr. Sebastian

     

    Grace and peace…

     

    On this Mother’s Day, 

    I wanted to spend some time on an issue that many women face 

    (Acknowledging women’s issues are also men’s issues.)

    The issue is the abuse of women. 

    It’s not too often talked about in church, 

    and I acknowledge with regret that I’ve never dedicated a big chunk of a sermon to this subject.

    I also will discuss this issue in light of our Gospel Reading,

    Which talks about love and friendship.

    I would say that: 

    The Church’s traditional focus on the subordination of women, 

    as well as its insistence on male power and privilege, 

    and its perversion of Christian ideals of love, 

    Means that the Church is behind in addressing issues of abuse against women.

     

     

     

     

    When Deacon Scott and I sat down to plan today’s worship, 

    we decided today would be “band day” and the theme would be love. 

    Immediately the song “We are called” (720) came to mind,

    as this song would fit well in saying 

    how we need to live out God’s love in the world by acting with justice, and loving tenderly. 

    It’s also a song that’s been sung here almost two dozen times 

    and would work well with guitar and our band. 

    But then Scott reminded me that this hymn was written by David Haas, and thus it would be best not to sing it.

     

    David Haas is a superstar among Catholic composers of liturgical music, and has 4 popular songs in our hymnal, including You are Mine (581), 

    and Blest are they (728). 

    Yet last year, dozens of women accused Haas of sexual misconduct spanning decades, citing #metoo. 

    Haas’ Publisher terminated their relationship with him, 

    and many Catholic dioceses and the 

    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

    strongly encouraged congregations to discontinue using his works.

     

    As much as I admire his hymns, I think it’s the right thing to do, 

    to stop singing them in public worship, 

    out of respect to those who have been victimized by him. 

     

     

    I can definitely empathize how it could be traumatic for victims, 

    whom this predator might have even serenaded with the words 

    “I love you and you are mine”, 

    to have these hymns sung in the supposedly safe space of worship.

    I also feel, with the overwhelming evidence of the women’s testimony, barring any likely real justice in the courts, 

    that by banning his music at St. Matthews, 

    we are sending a signal that sexual abuse of women cannot be tolerated, and that there will be consequences.

    For far too long, men in power, esp. charismatic and talented leaders, 

    even in the church, have abused their power over women. 

    At least there is some reckoning in the public sphere, 

    When often all that is left is social media action.

     

     

    The repercussions against David Haas would never have been possible without the work of the #metoo movement, 

    a global Social movement against sexual abuse and harassment, 

    which aims to reveal the extent of the problem by publicizing allegations.

    Metoo maintains that it’s important to break the silence 

    around sexual violence,

    and it aims to increase empathy with and solidarity among victims.

     

    Sexual violence, according to the World Health Organization, 

    affects 1/3 of women worldwide, 

    and so it’s imperative for men to also address the issue.

    Richard Stimac writes: 

    First, men need to accept the fact that in our society men still have more numbers and more power in all our institutions and systems, 

    as well as being on average physically stronger, 

    and they have abused their power. 

    Second, men need listen to and believe women; 

    our best statistics show that the majority of women have experienced harassment or abuse, 

    that the percentage of false reports is well below 10%, 

    and women continue to underreport because they still face retaliation and an ineffective legal system. 

    Third, they need to hold other men accountable for their abusive comments and behaviors; 

    it is not enough to not contribute, 

    or to be passive when witnessing harassment or abuse. 

    Lastly, men need to recognize that being free from harassment is a basic human right in every sphere of society, 

    and it is their responsibility to actively work towards that.[83]

     

    These four challenges remind men that sexual violence against women is a problem that men have to help solve, 

    and that even if you aren’t a predator yourself, 

    your own attitudes, words and behaviours have a lot to contribute, 

    in either worsening the situation, or making it better. 

    Christian men need to do a better job in getting educated on the topic, speaking up, and acting to reduce the scourge of sexual violence against women in the workplace, at home and in other locations.—

    One way that the ELCIC is contributing to fight sexual abuse and harassment is by participating in the Thursdays in Black movement.

    Thursdays in Black is a global ecumenical campaign of the World Council of Churches, 

    where church members are called to wear black clothing on Thursdays, 

    as a weekly reminder to denounce domestic violence and gender-based violence, (esp. against indigenous, Women of Colour and the trans community.)

    The campaign encourages us to break the silence and speak up against domestic violence, 

    advocate for better services for victims and “speak out against male privilege that allows domestic violence to flourish and remain hidden.”

     

    As the ELCA Social Message on “Gender-based Violence” declares, 

    “God calls us to love. Gender-based violence is not love…. 

    Simply stated, gender-based violence in all its forms is a sinful rebellion against the triune God and a rejection of God’s good work in this world….”

    We all have a responsibility to speak out against violence, 

    to ensure that women and men, boys and girls, including people who are transgender, and people who are gender non-conforming, 

    are safe from rape and violence in homes and schools, 

    at work and in society, and in our churches. …

    The campaign is simple but profound. 

    Wear black on Thursdays. 

    Wear a pin to declare you are part of a global movement. 

    Advocate for attitudes, policies, and practices that promote a no-tolerance culture against gender-based violence. 

    Work for the safety, protection, and healing of those in harm’s way. Encourage others to join you.

     

     


    Another more specific way to combat gender-based violence, 

    is to remember Red Dress Day, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which falls on May 5th. 

    The Homicide rate for indigenous women is 6 times higher than for non-indigenous women, and this has its roots in colonialism and historic and current discrimination. 

    As is all too common, the most marginalized among women’s communities suffer the most at the hands of misognynistic abusers.

    Remembering Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls one day a year is the least we can do.

     

    So, we now briefly discussed a few concrete ideas 

    on the issue of violence against women,

    Which is generally related to the abuse of power,

    And has little to do with “love” per se.

     

    But as Christians, how do we move forward to a better way of interaction between the genders, and between persons of varying power levels?

     

    I think one way forward is to examine how Jesus talks about love in our Gospel Reading from John today, 

    and to use it as a template for our relationships.

    By using divine love as a model for our human love and human relationships, 

    we can strive to better and less abusive forms of relating to each other.

     

    In our reading, Jesus says:

    As my Father loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love,…by keeping my commandment ….to love one another as I have loved you.

     

    Now as I mentioned last week, when we talk here about love, 

    we’re not talking about romantic love, but about the agape love, 

    an equitable, respectful, friendship, type of love.

    Love here is a virtue, not a feeling.

     

     

    It’s a characteristic of God, that we share by grace, 

    that is best exemplified by the inner life of the Trinity, 

    whose three persons St. Augustine sometimes refers to as: 

    Lover, Beloved, and Love that unites them.

    This ideal love Jesus speaks of is not possessive, dominating 

    or exerting power.

    It is not selfish or demeaning.

    But it is mutual, characterized by respect and equality.

    God’s love is full of appreciation for our worth.

    It is demonstrated by word and deed.

    As we try to love as Christ first loved us,

    We remember that as we do to the least of these we do to Christ.

    As we treat others with respect, so we treat Christ with respect.

    As we love others, so we love Christ.

     

    And the reverse is true too,

    As we demean and take advantage of others, 

    so we demean and take advantage of Christ. 

    As we abuse others, so we abuse Christ.

     

    By having God’s respectful friendship, abiding love in mind as our guide, we might be more likely to make the right choices, 

    call out abuse and injustice, and advocate for victims,

    And live out a Godly type of love, consensual and equitable in our relationships.

     

    One large disclaimer needs to be mentioned here, esp. in light of the topic.

    Sometime, there is a perversion of the theme of the self-sacrificial Christian love,

    In that women are tasked with the burden of sacrificing themselves for love (as it’s claimed this is their role), 

    and abusing some women’s tendencies (or society’s expectations) 

    to be helpful at the cost of their own health, safety or self-worth.

    This twisted reasoning is evil, and belies the basic truth that we are all made in God’s image.

     

    Christian love is mutual, and based on a willingness to go the extra mile, and this applies to both men and women, and non-binary genders. 

    It cannot just apply to one gender.

    God’s love is reciprocal, and our love should be too.

     

    Frankly where does this leave us?

     

    In a few moments we’ll be singing the 1960s Catholic folk classic 

    “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”

    I’d like to argue that we need to do better!

    Frankly, as church, we haven’t done the best job in demonstrating true love to all.

    We’ve had lofty ideals, but they have often fallen short, 

    and people have been severely hurt in the process.

    So, one way forward is that we  

    Take a stand against domestic and gender-based violence, 

    sexual abuse and harassment,

    And acknowledge that we have to do better in these areas.

     

    Then maybe, they may actually know we are Christians by our love.

    Amen.

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